Posts Tagged ‘existentialist


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Brisbane Arts Theatre

28th April – 26th May 2012

Reviewed by Suzannah Bentley

Before I went along to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I did what most reviewers do: consulted Wikipedia. I had heard of this play, and of the playwright Tom Stoppard, but didn’t know much about it except that it was somehow linked to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The first line of the Wikipedia entry certainly piqued my interest, reading ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy’. Before last night, my experience of absurdist theatre was limited to a turn as Vladimir in a scene from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in high school drama.

For the uninitiated, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead follows the story of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, obviously). The concept kind of reminded me of those TV series mash-ups that were popular in the eighties and nineties where characters from one series would pop up in another and your mind would be a little bit blown by the colliding of what previously seemed like two discrete worlds. At the beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters stand alone on stage marveling at the laws of probability and trying to piece together how they came to be where they are (although they’re not sure where that is).

Although the title characters never seem to figure out which of them is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern, the program reveals that the character played by David Mines is Rosencrantz, and Daniel Frawley is Guildenstern. As soon as the curtain opens, Mines and Frawley clearly establish their characters. Mines use of high-pitched vocals and slapstick physicality shows the audience that Rosencrantz is the silly, innocent, and acquiescent member of this odd-couple pairing. As Guildenstern, Frawley brings reason, composure, and direction to the pairing, as well as a healthy dose of pessimism to contrast with Rosencrantz’s eternal optimism. A journey with a yin-yang pair of confused courtiers has begun, and the audience settles in to watch them piece together the part they are to play in the narrative workings of Hamlet.

Soon, a band of players (Tragedians, as they call themselves) arrives. Led by the charismatic and vibrant Vanja Matula as their leader, The Player. This strange assortment of players appears throughout the play to teach Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the nature of theatre and tragedy. The Tragedians bring physical comedy and colourful costumes to the stage and help to re-engage the audience when the bare set and presence of only Rosencrantz and Guildenstern might become stagnant.

As the play continues, various characters familiar to us from Hamlet make cameo appearances and provide Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with clues as to the purpose and progression of their story. Soon we meet Hamlet himself, played with rage-fuelled energy by Stephen Smith. Hamlet’s mother and uncle (Ellen Hardisty and Ryan Goodwin) draw laughter with their cringe-inducing make-out sessions and perpetual drinking. More familiar Shakespearean characters (including Polonius and Ophelia) drop by and the plot thickens.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead consists of three acts, with an interval between the second and third. The third act sees a change of setting from somewhere in Hamlet’s castle to a ship bound for England. The only props used to denote this location are three barrels. The minimalist set design and the message of the Tragedians is used to remind the audience of the tenuous nature of theatre and its otherness from reality.

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was an interesting introduction to Stoppard’s renowned and acclaimed play. I felt that perhaps it was a bit long of a production to be tackled by a small company like Brisbane Arts Theatre, and at times it seemed to lag. However, highlights for me were the fun use of props and sound (the violin, swords, and fabric used in the Tragedians’ re-enactment of The Murder of Gonzago was very clever), Vanja Matula’s colourful and eye-catching portrayal of the hilarious Player (cool pants, too!), and the constant friction between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern which Mines and Frawley managed to maintain throughout. There are certainly far worse ways to spend a rainy Brisbane night than to experience your first absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy courtesy of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.